Of Food and Hospitality – In Social Context

That thing you do when you invite people over, suggesting there’ll be food?

There is a reason it’s usually referred to as “entertaining”, regardless of whether any other entertainment is provided beyond the conversation expected to develop in-between the happy munching.

I categorically disagree with the approach that entertainment (be it spiritual or intellectual) is more important than food eaten before or during said entertainment.  This is not to say that the food is the more important of the two, but rather that before entertainment can be enjoyed, the food is necessary, else joy of said entertainment is consequently diminished.  The disagreement in this case is not one of principle, but rather one of simple and down-to-earth practicality.  I am a happy and social creature and I love to spend time around other happy and social creatures, preferably in a good mood and with entertaining conversation in the mix.  Where does food and its importance come in?  Well, that is actually really very simple.

Hunger is one of humanity’s basic drives – one like fear, lust, thirst and others which are just as imperative.  By the virtue of being such, and not an emotion, and it is not ignorable even in comparison to those – at least not if one wants to remain in a happy and pleasantly relaxed state of mind, which is the one that is desired in one’s guests in the context of entertaining.

I by no means insist that any gathering requires a gourmet four-course-plus dinner to be good.  Not at all.  But I do believe wholeheartedly that if your guests spend hours hungry, it is not going to turn out to be a pleasant evening no matter how good the planned activities were.  If the guests (or yourself) end up hungry, they simply won’t care about much other than where and how to find some food – and none of the intellectual and stimulating conversation is likely to develop or proceed over any significant amount of time.

Expectations vary, and such invitations usually carry with them some indication how much food there is to be expected for a reason – “coffee/tea and dessert”, “party food” or “dinner” or some other hint to the attendees whether they should arrive after having eaten a large meal, or whether they should come in anticipation of eating five courses.

What happens when food is not considered important?  Well, you invite several people over on a winter’s evening to play games, have a party, or just talk.  People arrive – cold, having travelled some distance or other, and likely hungry, or getting that way, and reasonably expecting there to be hot drinks, and at the minimum some snacks.  It is reasonable – and if there is nothing to eat, then people end up sitting quietly unsatisfied, or, even worse, wandering off to elsewhere than your gathering, in search of something to satisfy the hunger.  What is worse, is not just that some people would come over and then leave – no, the damage is worse than that, because quite unintentionally, those people are also not going to come back to your place.  That is not because they do not like you at all – but because invitation to your place will become subconsciously associated with being hungry, and people will avoid something which may cause them to spend the evening hungry.  And because it is not conscious, they won’t rather pack a sandwich and come visit anyway, but find other things to do, or just not feel like going, without quite knowing why.

In fact, when you think of it, people go out and meet friends to socialize, and pay rather exorbitant amounts of money (comparable to cost of ingredients) at restaurants to be fed good food.  Why?  Because it puts them in a happy frame of mind, because very simply and unambiguously, people love eating good food, and they associate the feeling of being well-fed with most of the memories of worthwhile pastimes – and respectively, of the times when they spent the evening hungry, they will hardly remember the entertainment, as it will be overshadowed by the memory of having been hungry.  In this sense, hunger works as any other unpleasant and pervasive condition – being cold, having sore feet, etc.  No matter how lovely everything else was, the primal discomfort memories tend to dominate the memories of the day or evening as a whole.

With the above in mind, I am sure you can agree that starving one’s guests – by intent or accident, is to be avoided, unless you do not want them to be your guests in the future any longer.  And besides, it is both, satisfying to you and the guests, to be able to offer them something delicious to snack on while sitting and discussing literature, philosophy, art, or the universe and everything.

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